April 8, 2014

Cancer Misdiagnosis Leads to $300,000 Verdict

Some of the most common medical malpractice lawsuits involve a provider’s failure to diagnose a patient properly. When patients seek medical help, they trust that their healthcare providers will perform the necessary steps to determine what is causing their symptoms and ultimately provide the proper treatment. Needless to say, patients expect to receive the highest level of care. In this same vein, doctors are expected, and even trained, to make the proper decisions when the time comes to make a diagnosis or recommend the appropriate treatment.

Unfortunately, misdiagnoses happen all too often. A misdiagnosis can lead a patient down the wrong treatment plan or without any treatment plan at all. Failing to properly diagnose a patient prevents doctors and medical staff from providing the proper treatment, which often can lead to further injury or sometimes even death.

In 2009, a healthy and active middle-aged woman in Texas underwent a mastectomy to remove a benign breast tumor. Just one month later, she was given the horrific news that every woman fears: she had stage IV breast cancer. Once she was able to accept this devastating news, she began to give away her belongings, start treatment, and arrange for own home care. The treatment endured for seven long months. As a result of the stress and difficulties associated with the diagnosis and treatment, the patient developed anxiety. In 2011, the patient visited a medical center for treatment of her anxiety. Doctors performed several tests and scans that routinely are administered to cancer patients experiencing anxiety. At that time, they suspected that something was wrong. Subsequent testing at another medical center later confirmed those suspicions: the patient’s previous cancer diagnosis was wrong. The tests revealed that the patient had been cancer-free since her mastectomy earlier in 2009. Fortunately for the patient, the original doctor who made the diagnosis read her PET/CT scan incorrectly.

Unfortunately, however, the patient was forced through numerous rounds of painful and unnecessary treatment, not to mention the wasted dollars on substantial medical expenses, sold personal belongings, and severe emotional suffering. In 2013, the patient filed a medical malpractice suit against the physician who had misdiagnosed her. A Texas jury later awarded her more than $300,000 in damages to compensate for her injuries and pain and suffering. A copy of the article regarding the medical malpractice case can be found here.

This medical malpractice case illustrates the fact that medical negligence can take many forms – whether it be emotionally, physically, or mentally. Regardless of the form, when a misdiagnosis or any sort of medical error or mistake harms an individual, these victims may be entitled to compensation for their injuries. No matter how small the error or resulting injury may be, these medical mistakes cannot be overlooked. Our experienced medical malpractice attorneys at Silverman, Thompson, Slutkin & White successfully have represented dozens of patients and families who have suffered injury or loss as a result of a physician’s medical negligence. We are committed to patients in the most difficult of cases, and are here to help you if you believe you are the victim of medical malpractice.

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December 13, 2012

Malpractice Suit Alleges Five Years of Misread Pap Smear Tests

The Post-Gazette reported recently on serious allegations of malpractice against a pathologist for misreading Pap smear slides and missing the presence of cancer in a patient. According to the story, a young woman was shocked when she was diagnosed with cervical cancer shortly after giving birth to her son. She had diligently received annual testing in the past which, she assumed, would have identified the cancer earlier. A lawsuit eventually filed in the case claims that for five years the pathologist in charge of decisions about the test reading told the women that everything was fine. The doctor did not identify the presence of any abnormal cells or order more testing to clarify ambiguity.

The woman in the case had several other pathologists review the slides. They found that the tests showed a clear progression of cells from "pre-cancerous" to invasive carcinoma. In fact, the very doctor named in the lawsuit admitted upon further review of the slides afterward that those test should have raised red flags. There is also some confusion about whether the defendant-doctor did in fact indicate suspicious signs which were ignored by obstetricians and gynecologists.

Of course all of this raises the question of whether other woman may have similarly had slides read incorrectly. That fear has led the hospital, along with various private groups, to investigate the entire work performed by the doctor and his lab in the facility. Five hundred sample slides were pulled and are being examined by other pathologists to see if other misreadings can be identified. If so, then all those who relied on negative test results from the lab might need to be reevaluated to ensure they do not have undiagnosed cancer.

One tricky aspect to these cases stems from the complex way that these test results are read. As the story explains, computers are used much more prominently in readings today. Computers often examine the slide results and flag those that show signs of cells which require closer examination. In addition, the slides are often examined by both a cytotechnologist and a pathologist. In other words, there are often several layers of mistakes, and so when problems arise, it requires detailed investigation to determine exactly what went wrong.

I handled a very similar case. In my case, a young woman had annual pap smears which always were read as normal. Then, she was diagnosd with cervical cancer. A review of several years of her pap smear slides showed that the cancer was there but was not reported. Unfortunately, she died. The family later hired me to pursue a wrongful death case. At deposition, the technologist who read the slides admitted that the slides he read as normal actually showed signs of cancer. Subsequently, the case settled.

Missed Cancer Diagnosis

Proving errors resulting in a delayed cancer diagnosis is often complex. As this case demonstrates, sophisticated medical experts are needed to explain what a reasonable medical provider would and should have identified when reading a medical test. It is almost impossible for one not trained in medicine, including the patient themselves, to understanding if a test was misread. For this reason many patients who fall victim to this error do not come forward. This is a mistake, because unless negligent doctors are held accountable, there is a chance that they could make the same error in the future and hurt another patient.

If you or someone you know may have had a diagnosis delayed as a result of signs of test result which were ignored or not read properly, please get in touch with a medical malpractice lawyer to share your story and learn how the law might apply.

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June 24, 2011

Failure to Diagnose Uterine Cancer

In August 2000, a Maryland patient visited her gynecologist and informed her that she was experiencing abnormal bleeding. The gynecologist, Dr. Moen, ordered an ultrasound to help her determine the cause of the bleeding, but did not perform an endometrial biopsy. The ultrasound was performed and subsequently interpreted by a radiologist, Dr. DeCandido. When interpreting the ultrasound, Dr. DeCandido did not notice and report a mass located on the patient’s right ovary that measured 1.5 centimeters.

Following these procedures, the patient continued to experience physical problems, specifically pelvic symptoms and irregular bleeding, and complained to Dr. Moen of the same. Approximately a year and half later, Dr. Moen performed an endometrial biopsy of the patient’s uterus and discovered that the patient had endometrial cancer. After being diagnosed with cancer, the patient began treatment with a gynecological oncologist at the Johns Hopkins Hospital. Despite an operation and other treatment, the patient ultimately died approximately five and a half years after she first complained of her symptoms to Dr. Moen.

Prior to her death, the patient’s husband had filed a medical malpractice case against the doctors alleging that they were negligent in failing to diagnose and treat the patient’s endometrial and ovarian cancer in August of 2000. Specifically, the medical negligence case alleged that both Dr. Moen and Dr. DeCandido breached the standard of care by failing to conduct an endometrial biopsy along with an ultrasound and failing to report the 1.5 centimeter visible on the ultrasound, respectively. After the patient’s death, her husband added wrongful death and survivorship claims against the doctors.

The trial court had initially granted the Defendants’ motion for summary judgment on the husband’s suit, dismissing the case. The Court of Special Appeals affirmed the trial court’s decision. However, the Court of Appeals reversed and remanded the suit back to the Court of Special Appeals with instructions to reverse the decision of the Circuit Court of Anne Arundel County. A copy the judicial opinion regarding the case can be found here.

Failure to diagnose cancer cases in Maryland can be complicated medical malpractice cases. A Plaintiff generally must prove that he or she would have had a probability of survival if treated properly, but as a result of the delay in diagnosis the person has a probability of death (in other words, the 5 year survival rate is below 50%).

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June 21, 2011

Misdiagnosis of Cancer

Medical errors leading to malpractice litigation generally stems from two root causes: a health-care provider choosing the wrong method of care or a health-care provider choosing the right method of care but carrying it out incorrectly. The former is particularly relevant when a health-care provider makes a misdiagnosis.

Most hospitals have faced litigation related to misdiagnosis at one time or another. For example, Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore was involved in suit regarding the misdiagnosis of cancer. The decedent in this case was diagnosed with prostate cancer and underwent radiation treatment as result. It was later determined that he did not, in fact, have prostate cancer. Prior to the institution of a medical malpractice lawsuit, he died of unrelated causes, and a representative of his estate (his wife) brought a medical malpractice action against both the physician and Mercy Medical Center to recover damages for the emotional distress associated with his misdiagnosis. The Circuit Court for Baltimore City initially granted the physician and hospital’s motion for summary judgment, dismissing the case. However, on appeal, the Maryland Court of Special Appeals reversed and remanded the decision back to the trial court. A copy the judicial opinion regarding the case can be found here.

Of particular note is that the Court of Special Appeals decided that the emotional distress associated with being misdiagnosed with cancer was compensable within the “physical injury rule.” This particular rule stems from negligence law and states that if physical injury is capable of “objective determination,” it is compensable. Objective determination means that the evidence must provide enough detail that a jury has a basis for quantifying the injury so that damages may be awarded. Also, usually evidence has to come from more than just solely the victim in order for the claim to be successful. Finally, it’s important to note that there is no “threshold level” of severity that must be reached for emotional injury to be compensable.

In this case, there were three sources that evidenced the decedent’s emotional distress. First, there was the testimony of the doctor that the decedent went to after he learned that his diagnosis of cancer was wrong. Next, was the testimony of the decedent himself who had given a deposition prior to his death. Third, and finally, the testimony of the decedent’s wife was very helpful testimony as she was able to articulate her husband’s suffering associated with being misdiagnosed with cancer. Ultimately, the Court of Special Appeals found that the decedent’s distress came within the physical injury rule and was compensable.

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March 9, 2011

Medical malpractice by failing to diagnose colon cancer

An Indiana jury has awarded a $2.5 million verdict to a former police officer who claimed that his doctor committed medical malpractice by failing to diagnose his colon cancer in 2004. The verdict will be reduced to Indiana’s cap of $1.25 million on medical malpractice cases. The man claimed that he complained of rectal bleeding and other gastric complaints to the doctor, who failed to order either a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy to rule out colon cancer, although an upper G.I. test was ordered due to some other complaints. The man later moved to another state and went to another doctor several years later with the same complaint of rectal bleeding. That doctor ordered testing in 2006 that found the cancer was at Stage 4 and incurable. The man now is 42 years old and has been given a prognosis of less than a year to live. A copy of an article regarding the case can be found here.

As an experienced Baltimore, Maryland medical malpractice lawyer, I have handled many medical malpractice and wrongful death cases involving failure to timely diagnose and treat cancer. I have handled failure to diagnose cancer cases alleging medical malpractice involving brain cancer, spinal cord cancer, nasopharyngeal cancer, lung cancer, colon cancer, stomach cancer, bone cancer, etc. A number of these cases involve relatively young people whom the doctors do not suspect of having cancer because the patient does not fall into the typical age group of cancer patients. That can be a catastrophic mistake. Another terrible mistake that doctors make in these type of cases is failing to refer a patient to a specialist when the patient has signs and symptoms that are consistent with cancer. There is no excuse for a doctor who fails to refer a patient to a medical specialist when such a referral is appropriate and available.

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March 6, 2009

Medical Malpractice - Colon Cancer in Young People

A deceased woman’s family has been awarded $2.5 million in a medical malpracice case against the woman’s doctor for misdiagnosis of cancer. According to the family, the woman’s doctor’s negligent actions resulted in delayed treatment and severely reduced her chances of survival.

In 2004, the woman, who then was 24 years old, went to her doctor after experiencing blood in her stool. Her doctor diagnosed the problem as hemorrhoids on several occasions, but the real problem was colon and rectal cancer. Because her doctor failed to timely an properly diagnose her cancer, the woman’s condition went untreated for seven more months. She eventually died in 2007 at age 27.

The family argued that she would have had a extremely high probability of survival - 97% - if the doctor had timely diagnosed her cancer, but that due to the delay in diagnosis her survival rate fell below 50%. A copy of an article regarding the case can be found here.

I have successfully handled a number of medical malpractice / medical negligence / medical error cases in Baltimore and other counties in Maryland involving a failure to timely diagnose and treat cancer. In fact, I was involved in a very similar case where a man repeatedly complained of stomach pains over several years and his family doctor, without doing a colonoscopy, simply diagnosed him with irritable bowel. That is a diagnosis of last resort, which can only be made after other things have been excluded. A couple of years after the diagnosis, the man began to lose weight, have greater stomach problems and went to another doctor. He soon underwent the necessary colonoscopy and was diagnosed with advanced colon cancer. After the man died, that case resulted in a multi-million dollar jury verdict.

While it is unusual to develop colon cancer at such a young age, it certainly does happen and health care providers need to be on the lookout for the unusual.

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January 28, 2009

Failure to Diagnose Colon Cancer - Medical Malpractice

A Las Vegas jury has awarded a woman $1.5 million in a failure to diagnose cancer medical malpractice case. The woman, a 24-year-old mother, had found blood in her stool and kept having pain when she went to the bathroom. She went to local doctor who repeatedly told her that she was just suffering from hemorrhoids. Seven months after she visited the doctor, she was rushed to the emergency room because of major pain. Shortly after that, she was diagnosed with colon and rectal cancer. She died in 2007 at the age of 27.

A jury found that the doctor violated the standard of care and awarded the woman’s family $2.5 million. It is thought to be the largest medical malpractice verdict there since 2004.
The woman’s family argued that if she'd been properly diagnosed when she first visited the doctor, her chances of surviving the cancer would have been 97 percent, but because of the malpractice, her chances dropped to 50 percent by the time she was diagnosed. The family also claimed that the woman likely would be alive today if doctors had diagnosed her cancer earlier. Instead, before she died, the woman went through chemotherapy and major surgery, including the removal of her uterus and part of her lower intestines. A copy of an article regarding the case can be found here.

I have successfully handled a number of medical malpractice / medical negligence / medical error cases in Baltimore and other counties in Maryland involving a failure to timely diagnose and treat colon and other cancers. Some of the cases I have handled involved a failure to properly perform colonoscopies. Other cases have involved a failure to properly read pathology, such as tissue samples on slides from a biopsy during a colonoscopy. These cases are always tragic, as colon cancer is a generally curable cancer if it is caught and treated early.

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September 25, 2008

Failure To Test Biopsy / Excision of Tissue - Malpractice Lawsuit

An Indiana jury has returned a $8.1 million medical malpractice verdict in favor of a 33 year old mother of two, whose cancer was not timely diagnosed and treated. Apparently, the woman had a growth removed from her bit toe in 2004 by a local podiatrist, who did not test the growth at the time. When the growth resurfaced two years later, it was tested and the test revealed malignant melanoma. The woman claimed in her malpractice lawsuit that the doctor should have tested the tissue from the excised growth. Now in stage three of the cancer, she has just a 17 percent chance of living another 12 years, according to statistics

Interestingly, the doctor’s medical practice apparently failed to participate in the state program that caps malpractice damages at $1.25 million for all care providers involved in a case. Nevertheless, the doctor will be shielded by Indiana's $250,000 damages cap on all damages against individual doctors under the law. The woman’s lawyers will have to pursue attempting to recover the verdict from the doctor’s medical practice. A copy of the article regarding the case can be found here.

This case involves several important issues. First, is the failure to test the removed tissue. Whenever abnormal tissue is removed from the body, through a biopsy or by excision, it must be tested to determine whether it is cancerous.

Second, this case demonstrates the ill effect of low caps on damages. In my personal opinion, this doctor essentially killed this woman, but will escape any significant liability through a $250,000 cap on damages. It seems like a crime to me.

In Maryland, Maryland law, medical malpractice lawsuit damages for pain, suffering and emotional distress are capped at $650,000. But economic damages, on the other hand, such as past and future lost wages, past and future medical expenses, and lost household services, are uncapped in Maryland.

The only significant exception to the cap on non-economic damages relates to Maryland Wrongful Death cases. A Wrongful Death claim is a personal injury lawsuit that is brought due to the wrongful death of a person. It can be brought by a child, spouse or parent of the deceased person. In a Wrongful Death case in which there are two or more claimants (i.e. a spouse and child), the non-economic damage cap is limited to $812,500 (125% of $650,000). That cap also will start slowly increasing at the end of this year (December 31, 2008), when the cap is scheduled to start increasing $15,000 per year.

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August 25, 2008

Failure to Properly Remove Tumor - Medical Malpractice

A New York surgeon has settled a medical malpractice case for $1.9. The Plaintiff was only 16 when doctors found a lesion on one of his ribs, more than seven years ago. The tumor was removed in 2001, but the hospital's attending pediatric surgeon allegedly failed to get all of it. Despite assurances to the contrary, the tissue turned out to be cancerous and spread to three other ribs, said the lawyer. The man had to undergo additional surgeries, radiation treatment, and now is at greater risk for reoccurrence of his cancer. A copy of the article regarding the case can be found here.

I have successfully handled a number of medical malpractice / medical negligence / medical error cases in Baltimore and other counties in Maryland, and in the District of Columbia, involving a failure to timely diagnose and treat cancer. In cases involving tumor resection, it is critical for the surgeon to make sure that what is removed is greater than the area of the tumor’s margin. This is the standard of care in these cases.

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July 10, 2008

Breast Cancer Malpractice

The family of a New York woman who died of a breast tumor in 2004 has been awarded more than $9 million in a medical malpractice case. The jury found that a surgeon failed to properly diagnose the mother of two, allowing her breast tumor to grow and kill her. A copy of the article regarding the case can be found here.

I have successfully handled a number of medical malpractice / medical negligence / medical error cases in Baltimore and other counties in Maryland involving a failure to timely diagnose and treat breast cancer and other cancers. Some of the cases I have handled involved a failure to properly read mammograms (negligent reading of mammograms). Other cases have involved a failure to properly read pathology such as tissue samples on slides from a biopsy.

I have even handled a case involving negligent failure to properly treat cancer, in a medical malpractice case against Kaiser. In that particular case, a woman (who happened to be a judge) was properly diagnosed with lymphoma. She eventually started chemotherapy, which lowered the ability of her immune system to fight infection. After the chemo, but while her immune system still was weakened, she developed a rash from her chemotherapy, for which her doctor negligently prescribed steroids. The problem with prescribing the steroids was that steroids tend to further reduce the immune system’s ability to fight infection and, because they act as strong anti-inflammatories, they reduce fever and make you feel better when you are sick, thereby masking infection. Unfortunately, no one ever told this to the patient, so she did not take precautions against infection (which she had been doing while on chemo). Not surprisingly, she developed an infection and never knew it. Her blood work showed it, but the doctor did not tell her about it. Sadly, one night, she became overwhelmed with meningitis and died before being able to summon help. The jury in that case awarded $2.5M to the woman’s estate and her son.

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June 27, 2008

Failure to Diagnose Cancer - Medical Malpractice

An Indiana jury has decided that a medical clinic must pay $2.75 million to a former patient for failing to test a tumor removed from the woman’s foot. A doctor later found that a second tumor removed from the foot was malignant. Jurors awarded an additional $500,000 to the woman’s husband.

This case involves a complete failure to test the first tumor, and the failure to alert the patient to the fact that the tumor wasn’t tested. That is a clear mistake, and is certainly medical negligence according to the standard of care. I have handled a number of cases before where tests were not properly done or interpreted.

In one such medical malpractice case in Maryland, a young girl’s leg was hurting, so her mother took her to a Baltimore hospital to be examined. The doctor didn’t want to do an x-ray, but the mother insisted. After the x-ray, the mother was told that she would be called if the x-ray was abnormal. No one ever called. Over the 8 months, the child’s leg pain got worse. When the mother decided to take her daughter to another hospital for a second opinion. That hospital asked the mother to get a copy of the x-rays from the first hospital. When the mother called the first hospital, they couldn’t find the x-rays. The mother then went to the first hospital in person, to try and get the x-rays. When she got there, she was told that the x-rays were just being read. She didn’t understand, as it has been many months since she and her daughter had been there. On her way to the second hospital, the mother got a call from the first hospital telling her that the x-ray showed evidence of bone cancer. It turned out that the films were never read until the day the mother went to pick up the films. That eight month delay in the bone cancer diagnosis allowed the cancer to spread / metastasize. As a result, the girl died before her 20th birthday. What a tragic case. Obviously, that medical malpractice case settled for a substantial amount.

In another case I handled, a young woman in Maryland had the recommended annual pap smears, which all were read as normal. But then, one year after having a normal pap smear, she had another one read as showing advanced cervical cancer. She came to see me and I ordered all of the slides from her previous pap smears. It turned out that 3 years worth of pap smears which were read as normal all showed signs of cervical cancer that were missed. Amazing. After filing suit, the case settled shortly before trial.

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